Magical World Cup as Messi and Argentina triumph in Doha final

A showdown between Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe lived up to its billing as Qatar 2022 becomes highest scoring World Cup in history

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It was an incredible party that nobody in the Middle East wanted to end.

After a record-breaking 172 goals in 64 games, involving 32 teams across 28 thrilling days, it was time to say a fond farewell to Qatar World Cup 2022 on Sunday.

Lionel Messi wrote a fairytale ending by inspiring Argentina to an enthralling penalty shoot-out win over France, for whom Kylian Mbappe scored a remarkable hat-trick to make it 3-3 after extra time.

But even after the final ball was kicked, and the final two guests had departed, it was clear the memories forged on and off the pitch would last.

A tournament that started tentatively had sprung into life when the Green Falcons of Saudi Arabia brought Argentina crashing to earth in the first round of group stage fixtures.

It was the South American side, of course, who would soar into the final and end up with the World Cup.

It was a football festival with no shortage of drama.

Lionel Messi's quest for World Cup glory, Cristiano Ronaldo's fall from grace and Morocco's magnificent march into the record books were among the stories that made this another engrossing chapter in the history of the World Cup.

As good as the action on the pitch was, it was arguably the fans who stole the show. They turned up their droves, full of passion but in good spirits throughout.

Supporters from all over the world filled the narrow streets of Souq Waqif on match days to rejoice over famous victories and commiserate after heartbreaking defeat.

From the sea of blue and white army representing Argentina, to the rhythmic beat of Senegalese drums, Doha was where nations were united by the power of sport.

That unity was on display during the third-place play-off between Morocco and Croatia, when football fan Souheil Adra, 46, dropped to one knee and delivered a marriage proposal to Nisrine Kawa in the stadium.

She said yes, and the decision did not even need to be reviewed by VAR.

The result of the match, a 2-1 win for Croatia, mattered little to them or the thousands of Morocco fans so proud of their sides historic run to the semi-finals.

“I’m thankful for what Morocco has achieved in the World Cup. We are now part of World Cup history,” said Morocco fan Rachid Bellaziz.

The World Cup showed all that is good about the region as Qatar opened its arms to the world in a show of Arabic hospitality.

The event left its mark in the Emirates, too, with fan zones across Dubai packed with cheering spectators eager to be part of the action.

Large numbers of Argentina fans — who greatly outnumbered the French contingent — had arrived at Lusail Stadium several hours before kick-off on Sunday, waving flags, holding placards and full of song.

They believed it was Messi's destiny in Doha to join Diego Maradona in lifting the World Cup aloft. It was the only trophy to elude him during his glittering career. But now the wait is over.

Many had remarkable tales about the great lengths they had gone to to be in Doha, hoping to be part of history.

Three Argentine friends were still on the hunt for tickets with hours to go until the players lined up, having completed an epic 10,000 kilometre bike ride from Cape Town to follow their heroes in Qatar.

“We started this adventure in May and it was an incredible journey,” said Leandro Pighi, 32, who along with Lucas Ledezma, 35, and Matias Vilaruel 30, had cycled through 15 countries in six months on the ride of a lifetime, arriving in Qatar the day before the competition started.

“We took flights to Cape Town from Argentina and started cycling all the way through Africa and Asia to Qatar. We followed our football passion and chant for the team in all matches,” Mr Pighi said.

French flair was on show as supporters turned up with faces painted in their national colours as they cherished a second consecutive World Cup final.

A spectacular closing ceremony added more glitz and glamour to the occasion before the teams took centre stage.

High-profile figures such as French President Emmanuel Macron and Elon Musk took to their seats as the biggest game in football drew near.

It was Messi and Mbappe that they had all came to see, however.

The master taking on the apprentice, the footballing king and the Paris St Germain teammate who sought to take his crown.

It is now onwards to World Cup 2026, when three countries in the US, Mexico and Canada will aim to replicate the magic of Doha.

It will prove a hard act to follow.

Updated: December 19, 2022, 9:30 AM